Guest Blog from Francis Yongblah, Kip Heath and Anthony De Souza: Healthcare Scientists Celebrating Pride Month and why Visibility is still so Important!

It’s the end of Pride Month 2021, but that doesn’t mean that the fight for equality has ended. Healthcare scientists that are part of the LGBT+ community talk about why representation is important to them.

Francis Yongblah, Microbiology Laboratory Manager and HSST Trainee.

As a Gay, Asian Healthcare Scientist, representation of the LGBTQ+ community in Healthcare science is crucial to me. I have been a Healthcare Scientist for just over 12 years and in that time I have experienced and been exposed to homophobia and prejudice in the laboratory workplace. Although these incidents were very early in my career, these scenarios have always stayed in my mind and something that I have never forgotten. Early on in my career, I felt that I had to hide who I was as an individual and could not actually be me for fear of being judged or treated unfairly. These scenarios made me worry that, because of my characteristics of being a gay man, my professional development and career would have been hindered. No healthcare scientist should feel like this, and it’s important for everyone to recognise the attributes and contribution that a diverse workforce can bring to a service, team and the positive impact it can have on patient outcomes.

I have worked hard as an LGBTQ+ Scientist in order to ensure that my career has been able to develop and I can go as far as I am able to and not to be held back by my sexuality. I feel it key to have representation for the healthcare scientist workforce in order to be able to recognise how key it is to have a diverse workforce, as well as recognising that there are LGBTQ+ Healthcare Scientists within the workforce. We’ve now come a long way from when my career had just started out and I feel proud to have my organisation and the NHS represent and support LGBTQ+ Healthcare Scientists. There has also recently been a lot of support from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) to promote the LGBTQ+ Healthcare Scientists in our workforce.,

Kip Heath, Deputy Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist and Science Communicator

For me, it’s essential that we foster a workplace environment (and, indeed, a society) in which people are accepted regardless of their gender or sexuality. I’m a queer woman married to a cis heterosexual man. He’s a wonderful and supportive individual and the only person I could imagine taking on the world with. But, to that outside world, we are a standard heterosexual couple. On the one hand, that can be an advantage as I can hide my sexuality fairly easily. However, there have been workplaces that I’ve not felt comfortable or accepted as myself. But I have found that my identity can be easily erased, even by other members of the LGBT+ community.

Now I work in leadership positions where I need to provide support across the healthcare science workforce. My boss talks about the importance of bringing your authentic self to work and leading by example. Our workforce is hugely diverse and it’s important that we demonstrate that. I want to make sure that LGBT+ healthcare scientists in our Trust never feel like they need to hide themselves at work and that there are people that they can open up to if they have any issues. In my role as a science communicator, I raise awareness of healthcare science careers to students and show them that the profession is open to LGBT+ scientists, and that their sexuality is not a barrier to progression.

Anthony De Souza, Practice educator for HCS, HEI lecturer & LGBT+ Forum co-chair

Representation is important to me because, when I grew up, there was no one in my life or on TV that was like me. This added to a feeling of invisibility and isolation, making me feel like I didn’t matter and that there was no place for me in society. I’ve been lucky enough to feel safe enough at work to be myself these days, but everyone’s situation within an organisation will differ.

We know that diversity equates to strength but what are we doing to create an inclusive space for scientists? Science is a diverse and ever changing space where a variety of perspectives yields better conversations, we need an environment that actively supports that. We also need to recognise that much of the discrimination individuals may face happens before they’ve even accepted a job offer, this could be binary choices on demographic questions or uniformity of interview panels.

To be our best at work we have to commit our energy and focus for the good of patients’. We can only do this if we don’t have to constantly edit how we act to fit a pre-defined notion of ‘normal’, react in real time to how we’re perceived or routinely have to deflect micro-aggressions. 

Shining a light on excellence throughout the workforce of scientists from different gender identities, sexual orientation, disability, age or race is important for visibility. We need role models that we can relate to and learn from. This also challenges the wider communities’ pre conceived notions of what a professional usually looks, sounds and acts like.

Today you are you, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive, who is youer than you

– Dr Seuss

All opinions on this blog are my own

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